Eating Disorders F.A.Q.
Here are some of the common questions that I get asked either through email, IM, research reports, or just general discussions that I walk into. :) More will be added as they come along, but I hope that what's here will help either you or someone you know understand these demons more.
I know I have a problem but I don't want to get help because I don't want them to make me fat!
Believe me, a therapist or doctor's aim is not to make you fat. What exactly would the point of that be? This fear is merely one the ED tries to play on you in order to keep you away from help as long as possible. In truth a doctor or therapist is not concerned with shoving food down your mouth and making you gain a bazillion pounds. Doctors and therapists who know about ED's know very well how nerve wracking just even the thought of gaining weight is for a patient. The only time a patient will be asked to gain some weight is when the weight they are currently at is putting them in immediate medical danger. Even then, some sort of plan is set-up so that only this or that is gained over a period of time so that it is the least painful for the patient.
My friend has an eating disorder and other problems. What can I do to help him/her?
First try out the The "Rules" of Support page for a general idea on what and what not to do to help your friend. I hope that your friend is in some kind of therapy for their problems, but if he/she isn't, do what you can to encourage them to talk to someone about seeing a therapist for the ED and other problems. Let them know that their problems are shared by thousands of others, and that they are not things to be ashamed over and are very treatable. One thing that you need to know, however, is that if your friend doesn't want to get better or does not want recovery or to try and change, then they won't. It's very hard to watch someone like a friend fall apart in front of you, but the truth of the matter is that no one can force someone into therapy if it is something that they do not want.
I don't know what your friend's family situation is like, but if they have a fairly good relationship with their parents (or one of them) and the parents are or the parent is stable (meaning they don't have problems such as alcoholism for example), and they have not told them or one of them about their problems, then try to encourage your friend to talk to their parents/parent about it. Your friend doesn't have to tell them specifically what is wrong, but instead he/she could say that they just haven't been feeling okay lately and that they really feel like they need to talk to a therapist for a little bit. If he/she is unable to talk to a parent themselves, maybe a friend of theirs like you or someone else can talk to them, or a group of friends could talk to the parents in a group, or your friend could do it through a letter or email. If it seems as though they have parents who, if told about these things, would only blow up or not get your friend help, then continue to try and support him/her by encouraging them to talk to you. If therapy isn't an option because their parents are not supportive, then see if maybe getting them into group therapy would be an option.
If therapy or some other kind of support is an option and your friend does not want help, but at the same time it starts to seem as though he/she is really putting themselves in immediate medical danger and they still refuse to talk to someone about this, then I would go to a school counselor and let them know what is going on and let that person take it from there.
I don't want to be anorexic but I don't want to be fat either. What do I do?
The best information or advice I can give you is to try and get help, and through that learn how to accept you for you. I'm speaking from 8 years of experience when I say that you will NEVER be satisfied with your body no matter what weight it holds until you are satisfied with yourself as a whole. This cycle actually has very little to do with weight. All weight and food are are a gauge as to how you feel about yourself, and until you are ready to accept yourself as a person and not just as a body you will continue to lose weight and continue to feel fat. With eating disorder's we can never see ourselves for who we truly are or for how we truly look, and as long as the eating disorder is in control we will continue to only see ourselves as vile and fat and failures when we look in the mirror.
I weigh x lbs. Am I fat?/Do I have an eating disorder?
First thing, I'm not a doctor or in any kind of medical school, so I can't tell someone whether they are overweight or not. Even if I were a doctor, it's impossible to tell someone over the internet without finding out how much muscle the person has, the size of the person's bones, the rate of their metabolism, and so on since all of these things and more affect whether someone is considered overweight or not. Also, a person is not considered to have an eating disorder just based upon their weight. So many people do not understand that weight and numbers are not what eating disorders are based upon. No matter your weight is, if you have disordered eating behaviors then there is a problem. Society has a bad tendency to only show those who are emaciated or only those who purge a million times a day as the only ones who have a problem, so people feel that unless they only weigh 2.6 ounces or unless they purge 24/7 that they are perfectly fine. You end up thinking that you don't have a problem because you aren't "as bad" as someone else. Regardless of how much you restrict, how much you purge, or the duration of these behaviors, food is meant to be eaten in "normal" quantities and was never meant to be an emotional therapist. If you do any of these behaviors at any point for any period of time then there is a serious and deadly problem at hand that needs treatment. It's true that there are people who are more severe with their problems, but the key is to not look at them with competitive impulses, but instead to think about how you need to get help before your own life gets to that degree of severity.
I think I have an ED... Am I going crazy?
You definitely are not going crazy. An eating disorder is not a matter of being "insane" or anything of the sort. It is a behavioral disorder and one of self-worth and also of finding out who you are as a person, but it is not something that means you have lost your mind (although at times the struggle between the logical mind and the eating disorder's mind can make you feel as though you've lost your marbles).
When I went to my parents for help they just yelled at me. I'm not old enough to drive or see a therapist... what do I do?
Oh boy. This is one of the major things with ED's that just royally ticks me off. Let me first say to anyone who has tried asking for help and has just gotten yelled at or even punished for coming forward with their problems that it is NOT your fault. Your parents or family members have no right what so ever to respond back with anger, threats, or punishment, and regardless of what they say you ARE a deserving being who needs help.
If you or someone you know is in this situation where help is not immediately available, then there is help online for you. At Something Fishy's Online Support page there are chats, message boards, and tons of links for people to get support out of. If you do a search on Mamma for online support for eating disorders you can find mailing lists and more chats and sites so that you can get support from others online who are in therapy currently or are recovered.
Are there any sites or groups out there for friends or family members of someone suffering?
Here is what I managed to find in hopes that it'll be of some help: Something Fishy (good source for friends and families; chat and message board), ED Newsletter (mainly deals with families of ED sufferers; newsletter was abandoned, but the site is still up for information), Eating Disorders Education Organization (stationed in Canada, but if you write I'm sure someone will be able to help you), S.C.a.R.E.D. (has a section for friends and families although it is just about what and what not to do; has a lot of links with one to an email support group for parents that probably has friends of sufferers as well).
There's also a really good book out there, The Secret Language of Eating Disorders, by Peggy Claude-Pierre. Although it's directed mainly towards sufferers of anorexia, there's also a section for friends and families and is very helpful for friends and families to get a better grasp of understanding and on what to do.
Do you do interviews or questions for reports?
I once did an interview for a teen magazine (all of which I feel are total hypocrites, but on with the question) and in the end the interviewer essentially took what I said and made up some things that sounded good and then took anything else that I had actually said over the phone and over-exaggerated. In the end, once I read the published article 6 months later, there was hardly anything that I had actually said in there and I put it back on the magazine rack in disgust. I'm not saying that all interviewers and magazines are going to be so horrible with the trampling of the rights of others, but after hearing a similar experience happen to a friend of mine with another magazine, I am extremely weary of doing another interview out of the fear that the same situation will happen and my words will get twisted around and deleated for the sake of selling more magazines. If I am to be interviewed for a magazine, I ask that I see the FINAL COPY BEFORE publishing. If after that I don't give you permission to publish something because it's false, then I expect that to be respected.
As far as reports go for school, that's fine with me. :) I haven't run into any kind of trouble for that, but once again, I ask that the final copy be sent to me just to make sure that only what was said or typed is there and not messed with or "re-worded."
(In case anyone is wondering, once my friend and I had read both of the articles in the diff. magazines that were published, we called the interviewers and publishers and asked that something be mentioned in the next issue about the "problems" found with what was posted about us, but both of their responses went along the lines of "We can't do anything because it was already published and we don't have the time nor the care to make mention of any mistakes next issue." Ugh...)
How long does it take to cure an eating disorder?
Recovery has no time limit! How fast someone recovers from an eating disorder is dependent upon the kinds of issues that are triggering the eating disorder, the family, how competent the treatment staff is, and how much work the person themselves puts into recovery. Each person is an individual, and each will take a shorter or longer period of time to recover as compared to the next person. Don't concentrate on days, months, or years, but more on progress.
How come you don't have a section for compulsive overeating? Isn't that an eating disorder too?
Yes, compulsive overeating, also known as binge eating disorder, is an eating disorder. The reason why it is not explored within this site, though, is because I wanted to make this site from the perspective of someone who is experiencing the eating disorders currently. I've never battled with binge eating disorder, so that's why I haven't typed up a section for it. I don't know. I'd just feel fake or as if I have no idea what I'm talking about if I were to do that. If you are a binge eating disorder sufferer, please go to the main links page and visit the sites there as they should be able to help you. :)
I come from a good family who has never abused me, so why do I have an eating disorder? I thought only people who had a horrible background developed one.
Eating disorders can occur any and everywhere. From a basic point of view eating disorders are the way in which someone deals with any kind of stress, regardless of whether that stress comes from the family or not. Someone can have a good family, but still feel as though they need to control their bodies and be perfect or that the only way they can deal with stress from relationships or school is through food.
Do eating disorders run rampant in sports like gymnastics and ice skating?
From what I've seen and heard, unfortunately the answer is yes. Sports like gymnastics, ice skating, ballet, and also wrestling are practically breeding grounds for disordered eating patterns. I mean, what do you expect when you are in a sport where your success depends heavily upon how light you are so that you can fit into this or that weight class or so that you can jump higher? It also doesn't help that you are in skin tight clothing or leotards during practices and competitions, not to mention that with ballet you are in a room full of mirrors. I was fortunate enough that when I was in gymnastics I had some great coaches so that never really triggered the eating disorder much. Sports like those above may not cause eating disorders to develop alone, but they can easily trigger them, especially if you have medal-happy coaches and/or parents. More education needs to be spread to gyms and training centers all around to get coaches, directors, and parents to understand just how an eating disorder can form under such conditions, and how they can help to prevent them.
Why didn't the treatment center/therapist work?
Different forms of treatment are used to help sufferers, and one form may work for one person, but not work for you or your friend or loved one. Just because one center or therapist, or even two or three, didn't help someone become recovered overtime does not mean that they are incurable or "hopeless." Look into and try different treatment methods and find one that is right for you or the person you know. I have to mention here that I've noticed a frightening amount of hospitals use this gig called the "reward/punishment system," and personally, I'm completely against it. Basically with this system if you don't eat or purge, you have something you enjoy, like visitors, a TV, a radio, etc., taken away from you for a period of time, or you don't get these "privileges" back until you start eating again or gain weight. More than anything this kind of system causes someone to end up further entrenched within the eating disorder mind-set because a sufferer already feels that they do not deserve anything, so taking things away from them only continues to tell them that they are unworthy.
It seems that eating disorders primarily show up only in girls who are in their teens or 20's...
Eh, that's what society likes to portray. On the majority of talk shows or articles featuring on eating disorders, that's all that is shown -- teenage or 20-something girls. However, MEN also suffer. I've come in contact with 4 men who are going through their own battles with bulimia and anorexia. Most male cases, though, are not recognized because those who suffer are often afraid to come forward due to the fact that the ignorant people out there will label them gay or wusses. So, many stay in hiding. It's not just us kiddies that become afflicted, either. Eating disorders can strike an older woman or man during a bad marriage, a divorce, family problems, etc., or they have been afflicted with an eating disorder for a long time and are still afflicted with one. Eating disorders also show up in the elderly, as depression can strike and lead to something like anorexia.
Why do I get depressed for no reason? Does this have anything to do with the eating disorder?
Oh boy, YES. The restriction of calories or purging really messes up the hormonal and chemical balances (seratonin and blood sugar levels, for example) that are in the body, which, once upset and unblanaced, can cause someone to fly in and out of mood swings. An anti-depressant can help and take the "edge" off of this. If you notice that the mood swings are severe and long-lasting, though, I would talk to someone about getting looked into for bipolar disorder.
Staff, H. (2008, December 17). Eating Disorders F.A.Q., HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2023, December 8 from https://www.healthyplace.com/eating-disorders/articles/eating-disorder-faq